The pastor of a Louisiana church that has defied stay-home orders during the COVID-19 pandemic was briefly arrested Tuesday over video showing him allegedly nearly running over a protester in a church bus Sunday.
“Don’t take my bible!” Pastor Tony Spell can be heard saying during his arrest posted by WAFB’s Graham Ulkins.
#BREAKING: Pastor Tony Spell just cuffed and en route to EBR Parish Prison. Charged with aggravated assault, improper backing, and outstanding bench warrants. Central PD releasing a statement soon. @WAFB pic.twitter.com/4hx1yQRV4N
— Graham Ulkins (@GrahamUlkins) April 21, 2020
Spell has for weeks defied Louisiana’s COVID-19 orders barring large gatherings by continuing to hold services at Life Tabernacle Church in Central, Louisiana.
He was charged with aggravated assault and improper backing for allegedly driving his church bus in reverse within inches of a regular protester, Trey Bennett, who has demonstrated against the ongoing services.
— Abbi Rocha (@AbbiRochaTV) April 20, 2020
“A fair viewing of the video will prove that Spell did not attempt to run over the protester, and the protester did not feel threatened, as he never moved when the bus came near,” Spell’s attorney Joseph Long told NBC News Tuesday.
The pastor was less guarded in his assessment of Bennett.
“I approached a man who verbally assaulted my wife and little girls. He’s a crotch-grabbing, middle-finger using against my church ladies,” Spell told the Washington Post. “What would you do to a man like that?”
The Post noted, “When asked whether he considered Sunday’s incident to be an act of faith, he suggested he would block a Washington Post reporter on his phone.”
The pastor bonded out of jail a few hours after his arrest Tuesday and was greeted by members of his congregation, none wearing masks.
The Pentacostal church leader has said he can’t easily switch to online services. But local authorities are weary of the large gatherings.
“He has said that he has healed HIV, he’s healed cancer, he’s asked people with coronavirus to come to his church where he can heal them,” Central Police Chief Roger Corcoran told the Post. “He can’t do that. It’s a huge health risk.”
Prior to the aggravated assault allegation, Spell had been issued a misdemeanor summons for several violations related to holding his church services in defiance of the state’s COVID-19 order.
Long is just one attorney on Spell’s team. Another is the former Alabama Supreme Court chief justice and failed U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore.
Yet another attorney helping the reverend, Moore’s local counsel Jeff Wittenbrink, was recently hospitalized with COVID-19 after attending a service of Long’s.
“I went to Albertson’s twice a day,” Wittenbrink told The Advocate, as oxygen was supplied to his nose. “I went to Sam’s. I went to Walmart. I went to Lowe’s. I used the gas pumps. I mean I just wasn’t careful. God knows where I got it. The bad thing is I might have spread to somebody. I feel bad about that.”
Wittenbrink isn’t the only congregant to come down with COVID-19.
BR Proud, which publishes news from local stations WVLA and WGMB, reported last week that the 78-year-old Life Tabernacle Church congregant Harold Orillion had died as a result of complications related to the disease.
In an interview, Spell denied to the outlet that Oriollion had COVID-19, saying instead that the man had “died of a broken heart” due to his son’s recent death.
But coroner’s office records obtained by the outlet listed Oriollion’s cause of death as “Acute respiratory distress syndrome, 2nd pneumonia, 2nd COVID-19.”
Spell has embraced the publicity from his continued services.
Last week, in a YouTube video called #PastorSpellStimulusChallenge, he urged viewers to donate their $1,200 federal stimulus checks to evangelists.
“If you don’t have a church, give through my website,” he said.